2018-03-01 / Front Page

Residents surveyed about cable appear contradicted

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – Cable committee members recently announced results of a survey they conducted to better understand the needs of residents before negotiations with Charter Communications commence.

Representatives from Saco Cable Committee presented in front of the city council Tuesday, Feb. 20 to explain the results of a survey of residents and advise the council on coming negotiations with Charter Communications, which also operates under the names Spectrum and Time Warner.

Emily Roy, Saco marketing and communications specialist, said 222 people responded to the committee’s survey, 80 percent of whom have cable TV subscriptions. There are 6,500 cable subscribers in Saco. The committee conducted the survey to gauge residents’ interest in public access channels and what kind of content they would like to see. The city shares a single channel hosted by Thornton Academy, which broadcasts both government and education content. Currently only city council meetings are broadcasted on TV, Facebook live and Town Hall Streams. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they would like to see a public access channel in Saco. Saco receives 5 percent of Charter’s gross revenue as a franchising fee, about $275,000 annually depending on the exact number of subscribers.

“Eighty-two percent of respondents indicated they do not support the use of franchise fees for the creation of a local community television channel,” she said. “But in retrospect this question may have been a little confusing because then they indicated a request for additional local and regional programming. Some of the other programming that the community identified through this survey would be local content and that would include virtual tours, interviews with city staff or supportive recreational opportunities in the community or include community events. That would be National Night Out, Saco Main Street’s events or even the Rotary panel discussion or forums. A public calendar could include committee meetings and important community dates, public service announcements, holiday schedule and closures, parking ban notifications or emergency announcements. And then regional programming of community interest.”

Any material produced for the city’s public access channels could be shared on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media.

The city’s Information Technology Director Ryan Pinheiro said it will be important to agree on the priorities for the city before entering in negotiations with charter, which won’t happen until the committee presents before council during budget season in April.

“We need to prepare for negotiations and identify exactly what the city of Saco needs,” he said. “That needs to be very clear when we go to negotiate with Charter. There have been times where Charter says, ‘You don’t need that.’ But if we as a community say, ‘We’ve identified these as our absolute needs’ then we’re better off than saying, ‘these things can go by the side.’”

Pinheiro said the city will likely make use of a model franchise agreement, which has already outlined many of the details so that the city can focus on the capital improvement grant that ensures the city will maintain a 5 percent franchise fee and add more channels. Pinheiro said he waited until after new councilors had settled in to their role before he presented details of the request and once budget season commences, the city will hold public hearings to learn more about what residents would like for public access.

“First we’re devising a plan that outlines Saco’s vision on PEG (public access, education, government) channels,” Pinheiro said “Once we have that vision, we’ll be putting numbers into an ascertainment agreement as part of the franchise fee grant request. The franchise fee is negotiated for five, 10 or 15 years. We look at it as the longer the better, especially with the amount Charter now owns in the state. We want to protect ourselves for as many years as we possibly can. Once the ascertainment is decided, we’ll be meeting with the government relations person at charter. Our contract has expired, however they’re continuing to pay the franchise fee based on our previous contract”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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